Disinterest or Disability? Exploring the Stereotype on the Aging Population’s Use of Technology by Lauren Rayne

In various cultures and places across the world, older adults are perceived by younger generations to be disinterested in adopting the use of technologies.  While there is data to support the belief that this older adult cohort is not as technologically savvy as the youth that have been culturally immersed in the digital world since birth, much of this misconception is a result of society’s failure to address important and relevant variables affecting the aging population’s adoption of technology.  To adequately and fairly analyze this cohort’s use of technology, it is imperative to acknowledge that these individuals have had to overcome and adjust to an extreme normative history-graded sociocultural influence, in which society’s use of technology has drastically revolutionized the prevailing lifestyles embraced by the majority of the population.

First Research Study

Within the first study, researchers created a qualitative research design in order to further understand the reasoning behind older adults’ adoption of technology and how those individuals incorporated the use of devices into their daily schedules (Quan-Haase, Martin, & Schreurs, 2016).  The 21 participants in the study were required to be at least 65 years old and were chosen through a convenience sample.  To collect information from the participants, the researchers conducted 21 interviews that included open-ended questions, which allowed the interviewees to provide in-depth, authentic explanations of their personal experiences.  After the interviews were completed, the researchers categorized the data using the grounded theory, which allowed them to construct a coding scheme for four themes in the supplied answers.  The findings suggested that many of the older adults were very open to incorporating the use of technology into their daily activities.  The interviewees also addressed how they became introduced to information and communication technologies (ICT’s), with many of the participants being encouraged by family and friends.  Instead of feeling negatively pressured into the use of ICT’s, the majority of participants were eager to adopt the use of technological devices with the hopes of maintaining their independence, increasing communication with others, and utilizing the resources and information offered in the digital world (Quan-Haase et al., 2016).

Second Research Study

The second study brought attention to the fact that there are numerous variables leading older adults to experience difficulties when using every-day technologies (EDT) (Yagil, Cohen, & Beer, 2016).  More specifically, the researchers honed in on how the individuals’ stress appraisal and coping strategies greatly impacted their ability to increase their technological self-efficacy skills.  The two main coping mechanisms examined in the study included problem-focused coping, which is most common when an individual perceives the problem or source of stress as a situation that can be changed, and emotion-focused coping, where the individual believes that their emotional reaction is the only variable in their control because the stressful situation cannot be altered.  A cross-sectional study was completed with 150 participants aged 65 and above through the use of self-report questionnaires and a computerized simulator of an automatic teller machine (ATM).  The controlled variables in the study included the participants’ genders, education levels, marital statuses, age, and their state of health.  The questionnaire focused on the participants’ EDT-related stress, coping mechanisms, and their reported use of ATM’s, cellular phones, and computers.  The results indicated that technological self-efficacy is inversely related to emotion-focused coping strategies, whereas, problem-focused coping and self-efficacy skills were positively correlated.  The conclusion of the study suggested that age is an important variable when predicting an individual’s frequent use of EDT, however, the relationship is increasingly too complex to just contain two variables.  Overall, the willingness of older adults to use technology can be linked to their wellbeing, self-efficacy, coping mechanisms, education level, occupation, and evaluation of stress (Yagil et al., 2016).

Third Research Study

This idea presented in the second study is also explored in the third study, where the researchers aimed to understand the various factors that affect older adults’ use of ICT’s with a mixed methods approach including 323 older adults (Damodaran, Olphert, & Sandhu, 2014).  The participants agreed to complete a survey consisting of in-depth interviews, and the data collected was both quantitative and qualitative.  The questionnaire asked a combination of closed and open-ended questions relating to the duration of ICT use, frequency, the amount of confidence when using technology, location of use, and their motivation and attitude toward ICT use.  Most participants used four to seven devices on a regular basis, carried out numerous tasks, and displayed a range of skills.  Also, the data suggested that motivation for ICT use was initiated by the individuals’ desire to remain up to date culturally, to maximize their access to information offered online, and to maintain communication with friends and family.  Although the older adults predominantly displayed a positive attitude toward ICT use, they did express their frustrations arising from their experiences with technology.  Lacking technical skills, physical disabilities, faulty memories, confusing technical jargon, and unexpected technical problems were described as the main obstacles.  Essentially, the normative age-graded influences, including the biological, psychological, and sociocultural influences resulted in these hardships endured by the aging population, despite their high levels of interest, openness, and optimism toward the use of ICT’s (Damodaran et al., 2014).

Fourth Research Study

Similar to the previous studies, the fourth study was administered by researchers with the intent of identifying the reasoning behind older adults’ endorsement of ICT technology, specifically electronic tablets, how the devices improved the participants’ self-efficacy skills, and, lastly, the outcomes related to this lifestyle change (Tsai, Shillair, Cotten, Winstead, & Yost, 2015).  To acquire the data, there were 21 interviews completed by the researchers, and the answers were entered into a coding scheme.  From the replies of the individuals, researchers concluded that the majority of participants opted to purchase the electronic tablets due to recommendations from family and friends, and the sample population felt the need to remain current and connected to society.  Their continued use of the tablets was a result of the device’s ease of the use and the positive impacts on the users’ daily lives.  The variable within this study that was crucial to the participants’ use of electronic tablets was the device’s feasibility, which directly improved the individual’s perceived technological self-efficacy skills (Tsai et al., 2015).

Conclusion

In each of these studies, researchers attempted to uncover the elements linked to older adults’ openness to technology use.  Oftentimes, these variables are not discussed or even addressed by the individuals upholding the stereotype that older adults are disinterested in adopting the use of technological devices.  The evidence supplied in these studies emphasized the challenges faced by older adults resulting from declining biological and psychological health and difficulty when adapting to sociocultural changes.  With the knowledge of these variables, the commonly held misconception that the older adult cohort has no interest in accepting and utilizing the use of technology has proven to be a result of widespread misinformation and, ultimately, an invalid stereotype.

References

Damodaran, L., Olphert, C.W., Sandhu, J. (2014). Falling Off the Bandwagon? Exploring the Challenges to Sustained Digital Engagement by Older People. Gerontology, 60, 163-173. doi: 10.1159/000357431

Quan-Haase, A., Martin, K., Schreurs, K. (2016). Interviews with digital seniors: ICT use in the context of everyday life. Information, Communication & Society, 19(5), 691-707.

Tsai, H.S., Shillair, R., Cotten, S.R., Winstead, V., Yost, E. (2015). Getting Grandma Online: Are Tablets the Answer for Increasing Digital Inclusion for Older Adults in the U.S.? Educational Gerontology, 41(10), 695-709.

Yagil, D., Cohen, C., Beer, J.D. (2013). Older Adults’ Coping With the Stress Involved in the Use of Everyday Technologies. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 35(2), 131-149.

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s